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Map of the week: The mystery of the missing opium

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Mark Easton | 11:27 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

It's a mystery that has got British law enforcement officials and others across the planet scratching their heads. Put bluntly, enough heroin to supply the world's demand for years has simply disappeared.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) describes the situation as "a time bomb for public health and global security".

This week's Map of the Week comes courtesy of the UNODC. It shows their latest estimate of opium production in Afghanistan - another bumper year.Opium Production

A crop of 7,700 tonnes will produce around 1,100 tonnes of heroin - it basically works on a 7:1 ratio.The mystery is that the global demand for heroin is less than half that. In other words, Afghanistan only needs to produce 3,500 tonnes to satisfy every known heroin user on the planet.

Look at the graph, though.Opium Production

For the past three years, production has been running at almost twice the level of global demand.The numbers just don't add up.

There are two credible theories.

Theory 1: A large and undocumented market has opened up in countries which don't want to admit the problem. Russia has long been in denial over the scale of its heroin problem and the same may be true in emerging drug markets like Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

The Iranians are certainly increasingly anxious about the opium fields on their doorstep. Border guards and police have been involved in deadly shoot-outs with smugglers with experts suggesting that there are now a million heroin users in Iran.

But the over-supply is so great that it is hard to conceive of it all disappearing in to the blood-streams of new addicts in Tehran and Ashgabat.

Theory 2: Vast quantities of heroin and morphine are being stockpiled. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UNODC is convinced that is the only explanation. In a recent bulletin he issues an urgent order: 'Find the missing opium.' "As a priority, intelligence services need to examine who holds this surplus, where it may go, and for what purpose" he says. "We know little about these stockpiles of drugs, besides that they are not in the hands of farmers."

Further credibility is given to the stockpiling theory in that 'farm-gate' prices for opium remain pretty stable at about $70 per kilo.

So where are the thousands of tonnes of drugs that the UNODC describe as a "time bomb"?

Well a clue, perhaps, comes from a senior law enforcement official who told me that British undercover teams in Afghanistan are reporting seizures of "enormous quantities of precursors".

Precursors are the chemicals required to turn base opium into heroin.The intelligence suggests that, rather than export opium to established drug laboratories in, for example, eastern Turkey, smugglers are processing the crop in Afghanistan.

The likelihood is that vast quantities of heroin are being warehoused somewhere close to the fields where the opium grows.

But there is another mystery surrounding the heroin market at the moment. If the international drug cartels are so awash with product that they are prepared to risk hiding billions of dollars worth, why are there shortages on some British streets?

That is the peculiar state of affairs revealed in Drugscope's recent trends survey.

"Some areas are experiencing outright shortages or shortages of good quality heroin. The quality of street heroin had dropped in 12 of the 20 town and cities surveyed, with five areas - Penzance, Cardiff, north London, Luton and Birmingham - noticing a shortage of the drug on the streets" the report says.

The field-work, conducted in July and August, finds shortages had typically been in place for two months - a longer stretch than is usual in a market well known for its peaks and troughs.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) believes the heroin shortage in some parts of the country could have been sparked by a rise in the price of UK wholesale heroin. "Current intelligence suggests that some criminal groups are having difficulty getting hold of what they perceive to be good quality heroin."

One theory is that smugglers are using new routes, increasingly distributing heroin through East Africa.The switch in tactics may have led to a temporary pause in supply which is being felt in the UK.

But very few would claim the shortages are the result of police activity. The Drugscope survey concludes that "street level drug enforcement had little long-term impact on illegal drug markets." At best, operations only disrupt the flow of drugs for a few days or weeks and merely displace drug use and drug dealing for a short time.

One serious anxiety is that the economic downturn will herald a new wave of drug misuse.The recession in the 80s coincided with the British heroin epidemic. In the US it was crack cocaine.

It is not just that people turn to drugs to blot out the misery of a downturn. If the crisis pushes up unemployment, it is likely that, deprived of a legitimate way to make a living, some may turn to an illegitimate source.

Perhaps a global downturn is what the drug cartels, with their huge stockpiles of heroin, have been waiting for.

Update: 16:10

Since posting this article the Serious Organised Crime Agency has been in touch.

SOCA has a number of undercover operatives in southern Afghanistan. They tell me this: "Whilst the cultivation and production of opium in Afghanistan is in decline, intelligence suggests there is considerable stockpiling of narcotics by Afghan criminal networks in order to control prices in the growing markets in Russia, China and within the local region."

I also understand that Nato's top operations commander is calling for more aggressive tactics against the opium trade in Afghanistan. US General John Craddock will tell Defence Ministers gathering in Budapest that troops should focus on "high-end" targets like drug dealers and laboratories.

Some Nato ministers, however, are concerned that any crackdown would prompt a violent backlash against allied troops.


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  • 1. At 1:35pm on 08 Oct 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    If precursors are also going into the same area then produce and store sounds a good bet.

    The US (both presidential candidates) and the Pakistanis are talking about 'surges' Stock piling would counter both military disruption of supply and also (a better policy) of us buying up the crop

    Sounds like a sensible idea to put something aside to keep themselves going in hard times and then emerge again later when US will runs out. These guys think well ahead - I sometimes wish our leaders thought as far ahead before they did things.

    Has anyone 'gamed' the consequences if they store it up then suddenly release it in one go? Two or three years of heroin on the western markets in say six months. I wonder what that would do - would it make drug use/disorder etc less or more?

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  • 2. At 1:38pm on 08 Oct 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:

    So good news theres a less Heroin on our Streets. Bad news when the FC really bites were going to be flooded with the stuff.

    When people are at there most desparate there's going tro be a huge supply SUPER.

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  • 3. At 1:55pm on 08 Oct 2008, Paul wrote:

    There was strong evidence to suggest that the CIA was responsible for importing and distributing Heroin during the Vietnam war which also supplied there organisation with a surplus of cash available for non-funded missions. Now I'm not a conspiracy thereoist but its really strange how they have doubled production within the main province our soldiers are located and it all goes missing.....very strange!!!

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  • 4. At 2:07pm on 08 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    Nice report Mark. I think the stockpiling is the most likely explination. What makes this embarasing for the UN is they have control of the surrounding areas. The talaban have taken the side of the farmers in protecting the crops hence the change of production in 2001. The concern is that we have these stats to go by which in the best efforts of the group that have collated and monitored will have a large margin for underestimating the total production for the area. Also take into account that the crop has been reduced by half this year but production of opium has stayed roughly the same.

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  • 5. At 3:53pm on 08 Oct 2008, Peter_Sym wrote:

    Stockpiling heroin in Aghanistan makes no sense. The purified drug is worth far more than the opium so stockpiling it in a country where our troops operate is insane. One raid on the warehouse and the stockpilers lose big. It would be far safer to stockpile in Pakistan or over the border in one of the former soviet states.

    #2 Actually the opposite is true. If our streets become awash with the drug the price will go down so addicts will need to steal less to fund it. Its when its in short supply and addicts become desperate that we get the real problems.

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  • 6. At 4:04pm on 08 Oct 2008, Peter_Sym wrote:

    If you're looking for the 'hidden market' try China: 1.2bn people and a shared border with Afghanistan. China denies it has an HIV problem too despite evidence it could be as high as 1 in 100 Chinese being IV positive. Doubtless it denies it has a drug problem too although drug smuggling has been a major earner for the triads for centuries. China certainly had a big enough appetite for opium purchased from British traders in the 19th century!

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  • 7. At 4:31pm on 08 Oct 2008, SheffTim wrote:

    Perhaps Osama does have a master plan after all. He is said to understand financial markets…

    PS: Is there a prize if someone gives the right answer?

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  • 8. At 5:11pm on 08 Oct 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:


    I realise the price would go down i didn't mean the addicts were desperate i meant people who had lost their jobs and were looking for an escape may turn to cheap drugs that are in easy supply

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  • 9. At 5:22pm on 08 Oct 2008, AlMiles wrote:

    Like the Iraqi WMDs hidden in Syria, presumably Al Qaeda has stashed this massive asset in Pakistan or any of its other friendly bases.

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  • 10. At 5:41pm on 08 Oct 2008, Blogpolice wrote:

    Why dont our clever scientists work out a way to GM the poppy crop out of existence?

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  • 11. At 6:35pm on 08 Oct 2008, Ian Watson wrote:

    I too am curious like CarpMX and very much reminded of Iran-Contra, Bush Snr being part of the CIA team that was tasked to bring Golden Triangle producers under control, very suspiscious indeed especially when this has happened before.

    What adds fuel to this was a couple years ago if I remember rightly how a British Colonel went to the media because he was being given orders to turn a blind eye to convoys and it seems that because of this consternation that US seized command in this particular region and the Colonel sidelined.

    These are all verifiable facts and not conspiracy theories, Iran-Contra happened, the CIA were caught peddling drugs to finance arming factions and it strikes me like a lot of people, including a great many in service too that production is through the ceiling which is not the usual result when one is fighting a war like its being fought in Afghanistan.

    People are very sceptical now of American morality, when 9/11 happened the world was aghast yet some people were reminding those out there that in the 1960's America's chief's of staff had formulated a plan called "Operation Northwoods" which one aspect of was to fly a jetliner into an American landmark and blame it on Cuba, it is finding out of such things like Iran-Contra and Northwoods that lead people to doubt the very word of American governance because they plot and lie so very much.

    Or perhaps this is a prelude for a reason to attack Pakistan, a justification for cross border raids that have been killing scores of innocent people by the Americans, its a coin-toss right now who is next in the US cross-hairs, Pakistan, Iran, Russia even, America is a very very unstable country right now and it would do anything to prevent anything like turning a blind eye to heroin production becoming a major issue.

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  • 12. At 6:45pm on 08 Oct 2008, Simon Ward wrote:

    "Some Nato ministers, however, are concerned that any crackdown would prompt a violent backlash against allied troops."

    Isn't there already a violent backlash!?

    It is a bit lame that Nato ministers are scared. The opium trade is probably a source of funding for the insurgents anyway.

    Plus, if they can drastically reduce opium production then at least we can say we have done something for the UK/US tax payer that has funded the war. As it is we would have been better off leaving the Taliban in power since they eliminated production. I know people will cry terrorism, but I think that heroin does more damage to the UK than terrorism, and there are other ways to fight terrorism.

    #6: Peter Sym.
    Maybe the British are secretly selling it to China as part of a covert government plan to get Hong Kong back. After all, that's how we got it last time! ;-)

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  • 13. At 6:53pm on 08 Oct 2008, tomireland wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 14. At 7:18pm on 08 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    Oh goverments have tried to make biotics that cause harm to crops of both opium and cannabis. the results were unexpected.
    The fungus they developed for cannabis affected more plants than just cannabis so was shelved I think the same happened for the poppy.

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  • 15. At 8:51pm on 08 Oct 2008, Plutonium239 wrote:

    Who remembers Agent Orange? Infamously used, by the USA, for defoliation in Vietnam. I am reasonably certain that a satellite can detect poppy fields, particularly when they are red. A few B-52's, a few tons of Agent Orange and the problem is fixed at source. Job done. It seems so simple..

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  • 16. At 9:01pm on 08 Oct 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    People above are suggesting... release the stockpile, heroin street price goes down = GOOD because addicts need to steal less to buy same drugs.

    In the past I've also heard...

    Excess supply = BAD because too many dealers hunting limited number addicts results in turf wars and public getting caught up in the Uzi crossfire


    Really low prices = BAD because people can afford to give it away, particularly to the young, creating more customers ready for when the price goes back up

    (Turn all the above around to debate effects of a short supply)

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  • 17. At 9:40pm on 08 Oct 2008, Goldbullion wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 9:50pm on 08 Oct 2008, jw2034 wrote:

    you never know, what with the credit crunch HBOS, Barclays et. al. might percieve buying up heroin reserves as a safe bet, rather like gold!

    another alternative, although unlikely, explanation is that the US and UK are buying it up and dissapearing it to starve the warlords (and dealers back home) of a reliable income. kept hush since 'Government props up Taleban drug regime, feed addicts, whilst troops die' wouldn' sound too good a headline if it got out.

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  • 19. At 10:51pm on 08 Oct 2008, sadderley wrote:

    To the peope asking why we need heroin. Ever heard of that rather useful painkiller morphine?!

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  • 20. At 10:54pm on 08 Oct 2008, Neil Hewitt wrote:

    I know it might sound nieve but why don't western governments buy up all heroin from Afghanistan on a contract basis, and use it for medicinal puposes, or drug user rehabilitation purposes, that way the Afghan population get paid for the business they know and the world gets to control its, quality and suppy. You can't stop users, but you can control supply. It is rather like legalising prostitution, you can't stamp it out, but you can clean it up!
    I am a non user of either. Just pragmatic.

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  • 21. At 10:56pm on 08 Oct 2008, better_get_planning wrote:

    Opium also has a beneficial use - it's a fantastic pain-killer. Millions of people around the world are in chronic pain due to lack of pain relief. If only the harvest was bought for medical purposes...

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  • 22. At 11:24pm on 08 Oct 2008, nik1963 wrote:

    Further to comment 20 bourneagaincricketer you are right I feel, if the world supply is 10,000metric tonnes at 70 dollars a kilo, you would need 700million dollars to buy the lot. In 2007 the US spent over 600million dollars just in Afganistan.
    This doesnt take into account all the other millions policing the trafficers, smugglers and pushers, plus all the robberies, thefts etc by the users. It just has to make sense.
    It shouldnt be a ¨war¨ on drugs. There has to be more intelligent ways to solve this world problem.
    With the math being so simple to work out, it makes you think that there are other powers that be, that may be making a lot of money.
    But as bourneagaincricketer stated maybe we are being a little to naive.

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  • 23. At 11:25pm on 08 Oct 2008, Doc Richard wrote:

    Bourneagaincricketer, you are not nave, you are in good company - Senlis council, Afghan Red crescent, Italian Red Cross, and Green Party here and European Green Party. Oh - and Christopher Hitchens.

    Also - about a million Africans a year die of cancer with no pain relief. Some jump in front of lorries to end their pain.

    If some Bond-like action person wants to go and solve this mystery, take my advice: take along a sniffer dog. Fly a search pattern over the terrain, as low as you dare, and note when the dog reacts, because stockpile as big as that are going to be releasing odourants big time on a warm day. Oh, and wear a bullet proof jacket at all times.

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  • 24. At 11:45pm on 08 Oct 2008, threnodio wrote:

    Why oh why are the western nations spending tens of millions every year policing the drugs industry when what they should be doing is buying as much as they can produce. If you have control of supply, you have a hold over the end user. The scale of the use problem could be measured and understood in much greater detail. If this were combined with a policy of legalisation, then the majority of users would come forward to acquire a legitimate supply. They would then have a handle on the scale of the problem and find possible answers, the Afghan farmers would have a lawful cash crop, a significant number of back street dealers would go out of business and - just as a bonus - the cost of legitimate crop for clinical use would fall making it a practical proposition to give effective pain relief to millions in the third world.

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  • 25. At 09:58am on 09 Oct 2008, Red Lenin wrote:

    There's only 2 reasons why this is being stockpiled.

    1. As a guarenteed long-term source of finance to fund the Taliban/al-Queda for decades to come and keep the 'war' going for decades until the west gets war-weary, gives up and goes home.


    2. Everyone knew we in the west were about to go in to a severe economic downturn which, as it did in the early 80s, leads to an increase in substance abuse at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale. A smart-thinking Talibani may have come up with the idea that if they could stockpile enough heroin, in a couple of years they would have enough to flood the west in a 'big-bang' and cause the price to drop to such an extent it becomes in pocket money range and the use of it on the streets of the west accelrates in a short space of time to catastrophic levels. (increased heroin use = increased gangs = increased guns = increased crime at all levels). In short, opening a second front

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  • 26. At 5:02pm on 09 Oct 2008, paulonline123 wrote:

    As someone who comes into contact with drug users regularly I know that even if the price was reduced to a third it would not increase users significantly, however it would increase drug violence as dealers margins grew thin.

    One of the things we are doing in Afganistan is working with the drug lords to turn the worlds biggest heroin producer into the worlds biggers medicinal morphine producer.

    The only way to kill three birds with one stone - get the warlords on side and control their income, reduce the influx of drugs into the world and give the farmers a decent legal income that allows them to be part of society.

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  • 27. At 6:33pm on 09 Oct 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:


    "As someone who comes into contact with drug users regularly I know that even if the price was reduced to a third it would not increase users significantly"

    This may be true in normal financial times however if this stockpile is released in the middle of a global depression with millions out off work looking for an escape from there ecconomic worries then you cant be certain that cheap smack wont = more users.

    In fact though i hat to admit it Red Lenin's second front arguement makes a lot of sense and holds a lot of danger.

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  • 28. At 6:51pm on 09 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    Wonder if this is still true...
    Cannabis replacing opium poppies in Afghanistan
    By Kirk Semple Published: November 4, 2007

    KHWAJA GHOLAK, Afghanistan: Amid the multiplying frustrations of the fight against narcotics in Afghanistan, the northern province of Balkh has been hailed as a rare and glowing success.

    Two years ago the province, which abuts Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, was covered with opium poppies - about 11,000 hectares of them, or 27,000 acres, nearly enough to blanket Manhattan twice. This year, after an intense anti-poppy campaign led by the governor, Balkh's farmers abandoned the crop. The province was declared poppy free, with 12 others, and the provincial government was promised a reward of millions of dollars in development aid.

    But largely ignored in the celebration was the fact that many farmers in Balkh simply switched from opium poppies to another illegal crop: cannabis, the herb from which marijuana and hashish are derived.

    As the Afghan and Western governments focused on the problem of soaring Afghan opium production, which hit record levels this year and remains a booming industry, cannabis cultivation increased 40 percent around the country, to about 70,000 hectares this year - from about 50,000 hectares last year, the United Nations said in an August report.

    And even though hashish is less valuable per weight than opium or heroin, the report said, cannabis can potentially earn a farmer more than opium poppies because it yields twice the quantity of drug per acre and is cheaper and less labor-intensive to grow.
    "As a consequence," the UN report warned, "farmers who do not cultivate opium poppy may turn to cannabis cultivation."

    Many farmers in Balkh have done just that, officials and residents say, and the province now has one of the most bounteous cannabis crops in the country.

    The plant is certainly not hard to find. It lines the main highways leading into Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial capital, and is visible to passing drivers. The crop's chief byproduct, hashish, is sold openly at many roadside fruit and grocery stands, particularly around Balkh, the ancient citadel town about 24 kilometers, or 15 miles, west of Mazar-i-Sharif.

    Late on an October afternoon, Muhammad Ayud, 30, a kindly sharecropper, was finishing a day of work at the three-acre parcel he farms here in this poor village just outside the town of Balkh. His plot was covered by a forest of cannabis plants, some more than 2.7 meters, or 9 feet, tall.

    "This is nothing," he said, gesturing toward the towering plants. "If you give it real fertilizer, you'd see how tall it grows!"

    Last year Ayud's parcel was mostly opium poppies. But his crop was wiped out by government officials during a campaign led by the provincial governor, Atta Muhammad Noor, who jailed dozens of growers for disobeying him and personally waded into several poppy fields swinging a stick at the flower stems.

    Ayud, one of only two wage earners in his 16-member family, lost most of his expected earnings for the year, about $1,000, he said.

    This year he planted cannabis instead, with some cotton as a fallback in case the government followed through on its promises to eradicate the illicit crop. It was a return to a family tradition, he said. His father and grandfather grew cannabis here.

    Ayud said that he knew it was illegal to grow cannabis but that it was the only crop that would produce enough profit to feed his family. "I don't have anything else to grow," he said. The difference in potential earnings is vast: Cannabis can earn about twice the profits of a legal crop like cotton, local officials say.

    Farmers in this region have cultivated cannabis for more than 70 years and, by the estimates of several Balkh residents, at least half the adult male population smokes hashish. Resinous, pungent and black, the hashish is sold in thin, palm-size sheets that resemble large tire patches and sell for about a dollar each. Hashish from this area - called Shirak-i-Mazar, or Milk of Mazar - was once prized by smokers around the world, though its primacy has since been supplanted by varieties from other countries.

    Many farmers here, as elsewhere in Afghanistan, process the cannabis into hashish in their homes, then sell it to traffickers who come to their doors to pick it up. The best hashish is exported, residents here say, while the inferior stuff is consumed nationally.

    Atta says he has a plan to eradicate cannabis in the next growing season.

    Farmers have begun to harvest their current crop, and officials say they do not want to destroy the farmers' livelihood without giving them time to plant an alternative.

    "Marijuana is not difficult to control, like poppy," the governor said in an interview in October in his office in Mazar-i-Sharif. "It's very easy to eradicate. It's a very simple issue."

    But Atta said he was still waiting for the development money that the central government and international community had promised Balkh in return for ridding itself of opium poppies. The money - he puts it at more than $5 million; officials in the central government say it is closer to $3 million - is earmarked for a range of projects, including rural development programs to promote farming alternatives to poppies and cannabis.

    Atta cautioned that unless the money arrived promptly, he could not guarantee that the farmers would eschew poppies.

    "It's the responsibility of the central government and international community to improve the lives of farmers, which they aren't doing," he said. "Well, we'll try our best to not let them grow poppy, but it's going to cause problems."

    Many farmers around the town of Balkh suggested that forswearing cannabis might be harder than poppies. Not only are cannabis and hashish a more integral part of their customs, they said, but beyond cannabis there are no profitable alternatives.

    The farmers said they would not grow cannabis only if the government provided an alternative source of livelihood or improved the market for their legal crops.

    "If, in the future, the government helps the farmers - and really helps - we will destroy all the poppy and cannabis," said Hoshdel, 40, a well-weathered farmer in Khwaja Gholak who has nine children.

    "If they don't help us, I swear I'll grow it."

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  • 29. At 7:34pm on 09 Oct 2008, funkydoug wrote:

    To me its all sounds very familiar. Swap the opium for crude oil and this is the OPEC story. Do we have a global (or even regional) heroin cartel operating? Seems pretty logical.

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  • 30. At 8:59pm on 09 Oct 2008, bilejones wrote:

    I'm sure it's purely coincidental that drug production in countries like this soars when the CIA shows up in any great numbers.

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  • 31. At 01:45am on 10 Oct 2008, ameno13 wrote:

    Opium doesn't necessarily end up as illicit heroin. If I was looking for missing tonnes of opium I would look to western pharmaceutical markets.

    It takes much more opium to create a single pill of hydrocodone (Vicodin) than it does to create a similar weight of heroin.

    With minimal enforcement, and a bumper crop, Afghan opium becomes a much cheaper source than, say, the Tazmanian crop that is generally used by the major pharmaceutical companies to create morphine and it's derivatives (especially hydrocodone). The place to look for the missing crop, and the "missing market" seems clear.

    Hydrocodone abuse is rampant in industrial nations and addicts have been known to take hundreds of pills per day. Let's be honest about who is really buying this opium and not obfuscate.

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  • 32. At 01:58am on 10 Oct 2008, IMSirus wrote:

    1. Reserve of Herion all out of proportion to projected use.

    2. No compelling reason.

    3. Under US/Bush administration control.

    4. Bush admin long suspected of participation in falts flag incidents in US and abroad involving massive casualties.

    5. Bush admin regular warning of "Attacks" far more massive then 911.

    6. I've got a bad feeling about this... Euthanasia of mass casualties/resistance(see #4)?

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  • 33. At 02:35am on 10 Oct 2008, libsec wrote:

    If 8000 metric tons of opium are produced with a farm gate value of 70USD per kilo, then Afghanistan's entire crop should cost in the region of 560 million USD ….. or three and a half F22 jets.
    Here's a suggestion.
    How about paying poppy farmers the market rate for their produce rather than destroying their livelihood through crop eradication policies and thus in one swoop remove the source of supply of heroin to addicts, severely compromise funding for the Taleban, and bring the local population on-side?
    We, (perhaps the UN) could then do what it likes with it (burn it, turn into medical supplies) and over a number of years use subsidies to wean farmers off its production and into other cash crops.
    If we in Europe are prepared to subsidize our farmers to the tune of half the EU budget, couldn't we do the same in a country that actually needs it?

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  • 34. At 05:35am on 10 Oct 2008, printcolor wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 35. At 08:37am on 10 Oct 2008, Tariqabideen wrote:

    The Taliban are known to have wiped out the poppy farming during their rule because drugs are prohibited acorrding to Islamic Shariah.
    For past one year or so, they are steadily gaining more grounds around Kabul, and it appears their comeback is inevitable.
    The cartels including the CIA, do know that the days for production of opium in Afghanistan are numbered, hence the overproduction and hoarding.

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  • 36. At 10:33am on 10 Oct 2008, neutral joy wrote:

    Did someone actually suggest using Agent Orange to get rid of the crops? Are you serious? The effects of that virulent chemical weapon are still causing misery for those who used it and those it was used on and, more importantly, the children of both.
    I have long been convinced that no matter how much posturing there is about these issues, heroin and similar narcotics are huge cash generating enterprises. As such some governments and secret services are waist deep involved in the trade. If this is not the case, why did poppy cultivation explode the minute NATO arrived in Afghanistan?
    This is why there is so much resistance to the only practical solution to the drug trade. Legalisation combined with tight control and with huge and draconian penalties for those operating outside of the rules. Unpalatable as that is for many people - forty plus years of prohibition policy has achieved absolutely nothing, well unless of course you are involved in narcotics, in which case the rewards have been enormous.
    Governments fail to understand that the harder they resist the tide, the more profitable the whole enterprise becomes.

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  • 37. At 12:56pm on 10 Oct 2008, AdrianJPhillips wrote:

    May I suggest you add a second update, referencing the BBC News story "Nato to target Afghan drugs trade" 11:23 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 12:23 UK

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  • 38. At 1:04pm on 10 Oct 2008, Will P wrote:

    Theory 3 - the estimates are simply wrong. There are good reasons to over-emphasise the problem.

    So called "intelligence" told of WMD in Iraq yet we all know that none were found.

    How exactly are the estimates produced, and can we trust the motives of the UNODC? It seems to me that its in their interests to overplay the numbers to create a scare and hence receive more funding for their activities.

    I'm sure a lot of the pro-war brigade are very keen to continue to justify our presence in Afghanistan. Firstly we were there to remove the Taleban and their support of Osama. Given that poppy production had reportedly reduced under the Taleban, for reasons explained earlier, our presence in Afghanistan was not motivated by any interest in hunting down the drug cartels.

    But now we've removed the Taleban and lost Osama in the mountains of Pakistan, we need a new reason to be in Afghanistan. Ah - let's make it look like we're fighting a drug war!

    And as we don't want the war to stop (as that would harm our "defence" oriented economy), let's make it look like we have to fight a bigger problem and over-egg our own estimates. In that way, whenever we make a seizure in the future we can say that we're winning the war (which we've created in our own minds).

    As others have pointed out - if we really could know how much opium had been produced we'd have a decent idea of where to look for it. As we've got thousands of troops across Afghanistan operating with the latest high-tech satellite systems, the most plausible explanation for why we're not finding any more heroin is that it simply isn't there.

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  • 39. At 1:50pm on 10 Oct 2008, britnowamerican wrote:

    A viable opium poppy plant killer virus is well within the capability of science. The reason we don't have it is because, clearly, an effective solution is not the goal of world leadership. Too much money and political power are in play for the truth to seep out. Opium and the planet's curse it has placed on us are as devastating as any world war or any pandemic disease. A useful side-effect: everyone in the thrall of legal and illegal drug use across the planet is oblivious to their political and media manipulation. Wake up people. Read the warning label inside your head!

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  • 40. At 4:00pm on 10 Oct 2008, djburrows wrote:

    simonmw3 asked in reply to the comment "Some Nato ministers, however, are concerned that any crackdown would prompt a violent backlash against allied troops."

    "Isn't there already a violent backlash!?"

    Yes, but it is very difficult to fight an insurgency and narcotics production at the same time. Peru had this problem in the 1980's when the government of Alberto Fujimori was fighting the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and trying to combat cocaine production at the same time.

    The problem is that the peasant growers are caught in the middle. They will support the government against the insurgents as long as the government turns a blind eye to their production of illicit crops. Once you start to crack down on the illicit crops you drive these peasants into the arms of the insurgents.

    In the case of Peru they decided to first deal with the insurgency (temporarily ignoring the drug production) and then turned their attention to drugs.

    The risk for NATO is that by attacking the illicit crops they will turn the local populations against the government and swell the ranks of the insurgents.

    It was also very interesting to read the comments by Community Criminal that cannabis is replacing opium production in parts of Afghanistan. I believe that opium production in South America is increasing against Coca in recent years, so there seems to be a shift in production of opium from the Golden Triangle to South America. Perhaps this is due to easier access to North American markets.

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  • 41. At 4:38pm on 10 Oct 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:


    It was my belief that the Taliban are any poppy's therefore in this case your arguement doesn't stand up

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  • 42. At 09:51am on 11 Oct 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    Notably taleban/AQ have just attacked a meeting of north west frontier tribal leaders who were discussing forming a militia to eject taleban/AQ.

    If local people are going to deny them a safe haven/safe business premises then that stash of already processed heroin is going to come in very handy.

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  • 43. At 1:06pm on 11 Oct 2008, traducer wrote:

    Please please please dont do this Nato.

    The job of an army is to fight wars. Against men and machines. Troops are NOT drug enforcement agency officers.

    The US mandate is to target opium. Here in this blog, it is suggested that only the refineries will be hit. This is not true - there will be extremely fast mission creep.

    As arleady stated, the Taleban, for all their faults and acting as HOSTS to Al Qaeda, eliminated opium production to zero. Only since NATO intervention has production restarted. (Note the Taliban created a unified stable country and economy which we have destroyed).

    To the point, our troops are now effectively being asked to declare economic warfare on peasants who's only means of feeding their families and progressing are through planting (what is to them) traditional crops.

    For heavens sake, our failed western policies have created a dysfuntional economy where the only recourse for the indiginous people is poppy production - lets face it, little else will grow in that harsh soil and climate.

    We have NOT invested enough in the Afghan economy. Always Karzai calls for commitments to be honoured - they arent, out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

    So, attacking the opium producers (which will happen when we cant find the refineries) will just be a measure of our own failings.


    Brit troops must NOT be commited to do this. We have MORALS, we understand others points of view. We are respected for this. Destroying livelihoods is NOT winning the Hearts and Minds war which we Brits are good at.

    Please please please (again) lobby to option us out of this USA propaganda disaster. Increased numbers of REAL BRITISH PEOPLE, maybe friends ar sons of friends of yours will DIE because of this - this is NOT an intellectual playground topic. REALLY. Stop this madness.

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  • 44. At 3:40pm on 11 Oct 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    43. traducer

    "Taliban created a unified stable country and economy which we have destroyed"

    The taleban created the poorest country in the world with a life expectancy of less than 40 years. There was a major war splitting the country in two between the taleban and the northern alliance. People living in the taleban controlled areas were often in a stable state of terror - facing a death sentence for even hint of dissent. Teaching a girl to read, shaving your beard or even flying a kite were illegal and disagreement was fatal.

    Multiple sources - including the BBC - report that the great majority of Afghans (regardless of their opinion of the war or america) do NOT want the taleban back.

    I can understand some people having objections to us waging war - and all it's dreadful consequences - but lets not pretend Afganistan was doing fine before we went there.

    (drugs? - I say NATO sholud buy 'em not bomb 'em)

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  • 45. At 5:29pm on 11 Oct 2008, Barnicular wrote:

    I wonder if the drug cartels are simply upgrading to 21st century to the futures trading game:

    Constrain the supply, modulate the profit.

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  • 46. At 00:42am on 12 Oct 2008, GreenFloyd wrote:

    It seems clear to me the powers that be have no real interest in controlling dangerous drugs. It's yet another system designed to fail while making a few people very rich and powerful over the rest of us. In may ways the US and later UN war on drugs was a preview of present day econmic and ethical melt-down at all levels. In other words, the enforcers/regulators become just as - if not more - morally bankrupt as the criminals and terrorists...

    Thanks to Mark Easton and BBC for reporting on this.

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  • 47. At 3:30pm on 12 Oct 2008, Enuf_Zed wrote:

    I was very disturbed by the graph showing year by year production of Heroin in Afghnanistan.

    It clearly shows that during the years that the Taliban were in charge heroin production steadily dropped to a very low level, and since the west has been 'in charge' there the amount produced has skyrocketed.

    Am I missing something here? The Taliban was able to reduce production but the combined forces of USA, Britain and NATO cannot even dent production. The figures suggest that the west is not capable (or does not want to) control heroin production - shame on us.

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  • 48. At 4:41pm on 12 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    there were also many dead farmers when the taliban had control.

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  • 49. At 1:00pm on 14 Oct 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    47. Enuf_Zed

    "The Taliban was able to reduce production but the combined forces of USA, Britain and NATO cannot even dent production."

    We could stop it tomorrow...

    If a farmer grows opium then hang him in the middle of the market square, having gathered all the local people to watch. Let his family starve and tell the locals that if they help the family they will be executed. Burn the crop.

    Or just do a proper B52 'ark light' strike on the village - 104, 750lb iron bombs in a 1 KM long stripe right accross the middle. Absolutely guaranteed both that village and many more will never grow opium again.

    Taleban stopped opium, Sadam stopped shia resistance with tactics like that.

    Anyone willing to sign up?

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  • 50. At 1:58pm on 14 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    We dont want it stoped god people are short sighted.. Opium = painkillers = NHS. yes we can make sinthetic opium but a lot of people are alergic to it or unable to use it because of illness.

    Or just do a proper B52 'ark light' strike on the village - 104, 750lb iron bombs in a 1 KM long stripe right accross the middle. Absolutely guaranteed both that village and many more will never grow opium again.

    Maybe we should do the same on troubled spots in this country kill 100's to stop a few. Ill grab the oil, petrol and bottles several nusiance familys in a road around here burn them out problem solved if a few children die it will add to the over all message that we dont like the way you have to live!!!.

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  • 51. At 3:41pm on 14 Oct 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    50. CommunityCriminal

    "Maybe we should do the same on troubled spots in this country kill 100's to stop a few."

    I was being facetious.

    The original poster was surprised/suspicious that we are "unable" to stop the drugs trade.

    I am pointing out that we have the power/force to stop the trade. If the ONLY thing you are interested in is stopping drugs then its easy.

    The problem is that the human cost would be unacceptable.

    (The 'hang the farmer' option is actually how the taleban acheived their opium ban)

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  • 52. At 4:14pm on 14 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    does it not seem strange that we invade afghan AFTER the taliban begin destroying world supplies of opium....

    The War in Afghanistan, which began on October 7, 2001 as the U.S. military operation Operation Enduring Freedom, was launched by the United States with the United Kingdom in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was the beginning of the dubbed War on Terror. The stated purpose of the invasion was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda, and remove the Taliban regime which had provided support and safe harbor to al-Qaeda.

    Our goverments are working to turn afghan into the medical opium source of the world.

    08 February 2008

    This year's opium harvest in Afghanistan will be 'shockingly high', according to figures released this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). They estimate that the country now supplies over 90 per cent of the world's heroin.

    The news has fuelled criticism of the current US-led strategy, which aims to eradicate the crop. Instead, there is growing support for a scheme promoted by a European think tank, the Senlis Council, which hopes to establish a trial licensing scheme that would allow farmers to sell their opium for legitimate, medicinal use.

    The Senlis Council started research into its Poppy for Medicine scheme in 2005, and in October 2007 published plans outlining exactly how a pilot scheme would run. The project has since received the backing of the European Parliament.

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  • 53. At 7:38pm on 14 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    jon112uk Sorry :)

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  • 54. At 7:49pm on 14 Oct 2008, RashidPatch wrote:

    jon112uk says that the Taliban achieved the poppy ban by hanging farmers.

    Actually, they did it by appealing to religious principles. Mullah Omar issued a fatwa against poppy growing and opium production, and every mosque in the country preached against it, and people stopped planting poppy.

    Yes, the Taliban hung some drug trafickers; NATO forces call in air strikes on them, but that hasn't seemed to reduce production.

    It must also be pointed out that carpet bombing did not do much to halt Vietnamese resistance to American forces...

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  • 55. At 05:08am on 15 Oct 2008, Thaumiel wrote:


    "jon112uk says that the Taliban achieved the poppy ban by hanging farmers.

    Actually, they did it by appealing to religious principles. Mullah Omar issued a fatwa against poppy growing and opium production, and every mosque in the country preached against it, and people stopped planting poppy."

    And yet, once Mullah Omar and his thugs were gone, people went straight back to planting poppies. Either the tribesmen have very poor memories, or the "appeal" worked because Taleban was unequivocally in control and everybody knew perfect well that if you disregarded their any aspect of their take on Islam, you'd get your throat cut. NATO lacks their control, and it most definitely lacks Taleban's utter ruthlessness. Occasionally bombing some drug kingpins just isn't the same thing.

    As for forgetting the human cost and going all out, it'd be pointless. That would just drive everyone into the arms of Taleban, who at least are mostly locals and Islamic. Sure, the insurgency could be eventually quelled by same methods - empty the sea and fish have nowhere to swim in, as Mengistu so charmingly put it - but what possible advantage there would be in turning Afghanistan into wasteland like Chechnya? Showing the world that we can be perfectly monstrous too...?

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  • 56. At 3:03pm on 15 Oct 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    54. RashidPatch
    "jon112uk says that the Taliban achieved the poppy ban by hanging farmers.

    Actually, they did it by appealing to religious principles. Mullah Omar issued a fatwa against poppy growing and opium production, and every mosque in the country preached against it, and people stopped planting poppy."

    Sure...and then they hanged anyone who broke the rule.

    If these drugs are contrary to Islam, then how come the taleban now allow and support opium trading?

    I think loss of life is inevitable to fight the taleban - particularly if they deliberately hide amongst the civilians. But I would never want to see an Afghan farmer killed by our troops over the poppy issue.

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  • 57. At 8:39pm on 15 Oct 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    Hmmm oh well I take it that no one has clicked put 2 and 2 together and got 5 from the actions of the euro governments and the UN.

    Heroin is contrary to Islam as a drug due to the fact it causes harm and causes clouded thought and judgement, it now falls in to the same class as the bullet because its been made a weapon of jihad, Its a poison and will be used as such. We dont like it as its a weapon that when put into place targets the public and not the troops?

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  • 58. At 6:13pm on 16 Oct 2008, catfishone wrote:

    Maybe nobody wants to be in fiat currency anymore, even the gangsters.

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  • 59. At 12:51pm on 21 Nov 2008, johnbooke wrote:

    I am grieving parent who lost a child to heroin addiction. There are millions of parents throughout the world with the same grief. I have no sympathy for farmers in Afganistan. Eradicate.

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  • 60. At 11:10am on 22 Nov 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    Johnbooke. I lost my brother to heroin, its not the farmers fault its not your childs fault its not the dealers fault.
    The farmers in afghan and other contries that produce opium have supplied our health services for many years.

    The people to blame are the goverments of the world, they control how it is supplied and who sell it at the end of the day.

    And who does sell it? Children, young people, young adults, adults.

    Now why can they sell it?

    Because the goverments make money from it all.

    Your Child like my brother was a victim of prohabition. of the system of people who belive that its better under the carpet than having to take true and moral control of a world wide illness.

    During my brothers life he used he dealt he created new addicts, he hurt he stole to try and take the pain of his addiction/illness away just like your child will have done.

    My prayers are with you.

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  • 61. At 12:58pm on 01 Dec 2008, veryboredwithlife wrote:

    More drugs mean higher quality and lower cost. It isn't normally the high cost which drives people from or to heroin. So I think that a lower cost is good. On the other hand, farmers will make more money, and if the afgan economy improves, most farmers will go back to safer legitimate crops.
    The government doesn't make money from drugs, it costs the world trillions...

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  • 62. At 3:39pm on 01 Dec 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    if you like.
    tax is about to go on cannabis in this country, plus they take vat on all drug paraphernalia.
    then the usa taxes the crack sellers.
    good money in drugs for those that want it.

    thats just the surface of heavy involvment in the control of drugs.

    if prohabition costs so much why do goverments continue to support it when they themselves could reep the billions every year from the drugs.

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  • 63. At 10:15pm on 01 Dec 2008, John Ellis wrote:

    how long before we are forced to adopt this sort of policy.

    Taxing Illegal Drugs: How States Dabble
    in Drugs and Why They Shouldn’t

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